Yemen as depicted by German Helfritz’s photographs [Archives:2007/1042/Local News]

April 16 2007

Moneer Al-Omari
SANA'A, The German Ambassador held a press conference last Saturday at the Sana'a-based German House. In the conference, he tackled many aspects of the German photographer and musical ethnologist Hanz Helfritz's travels to Yemen that took place over three times during 1931-1935.

Helfritz (1902-1995) was a composer, a travel author, a music ethnologist, an explorer, an adventurer, a photographer. and a cameraman. He traveled from one place to another in Yemen and recorded different aspects of Yemenis' life in different areas, especially in Al-Mukalla, Sayun, Aden, Mareb, Sana'a,and Zabid.

In his photos, Helfritz documented the way in which Yemenis lived then, reflecting part of their cultural heritage. He also wrote many books about Yemen and spoke about some funny stories he underwent including his imprisonment in Mareb's Hareeb by Imam Yahya who was doubtful about his [Helfritz] travels.

Upon his visit to Shibam Hadramout, he was enchanted by the city's beauty and nine-to-ten-storeyed clay houses. Thus, he was prompted to call it the “Chicago of the Desert”. In his silent film Brick Production and Buildings in the Wadi Hadramaut, he showed in details the way by which Shibam locals mix and make the bricks they used for building their oldest sky scrapers.

Marking Federal Chancellor Schroeder's visit to Yemen in March 2005, a similar exhibition of photographs by Hermann Burchardt was opened. Burchardt captured his photographs of Yemen over the period 1904-1909. He traveled to many Arab countries and his journey ended in Yemen when he was tragically killed for mistaken identity. The exhibited photographs were gifted to the Sana'a-based National Museum.

The Saturday conference was made in a preparation for the Exhibition of Al- Mukalla, the place from which Helfritz initiated his journey in Yemen in 1931, due to be held on Saturday, April 21. It is worth mentioning that this exhibition will be followed later on with other three exhibitions held in Wadi Hadramout (May 9-23), Aden (June 2-13), and Sana'a (June 21-August 4).

German Ambassador to Yemen H.E. Mr. Frank Marcus Mann indicated that those exhibitions are intended to bring back the photographs captured over different periods of time to the original place from which they were taken, particularly when they are very rare. Further, the exhibition will include samples of Bedouin and the then Yemeni music.

Mr. Mann, who was disappointed at the coverage of Yemeni media to such important cultural and other activities, further pointed out that all these photographs and music samples find their way to Yemeni museums as gifts when the exhibitions are over. “Now, we are bringing back not just photographs but also music samples which will be gifted to the Yemeni Music House,” said Mann. He went on saying that Sayun's exhibition will be inaugurated under the sponsorship of Hadramout Governor in Old Sultan's Palace in order to attract the attention of concerned authorities to the importance of this building which is in need for restoration and preservation.

For her part, Miss Wiebke Brahe from the German House indicated that the idea of this exhibition stems from the fact that old photographs are rare in Yemen especially those which document the history of Yemen over the period 1900 to 1950. So, the earlier exhibition and the coming exhibitions are made in part for following the roots of those photographs. Also, she added that such works and photographs are part of Yemeni cultural heritage; hence, they are brought back to Yemen and will be kept in the future in some Yemeni museums.

In fact, the German House is an institution affiliated with the German Embassy in Sana'a and it helps strengthen the cultural ties between Yemen and Germany. It also provides general information and language courses for those interested.